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According to this article an angry—one might add hungry—Dutch mob feasted on the mutilated remains of their ‘Grand Pensionary’ (i.e. Prime Minister) De Witt and his brother:


There are accounts of some among the mob taking parts of the bodies, and eating them. One man is even said to have eaten an eyeball.


What primary source(s) documents these gruesome accounts?

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    Once! Once, you kill and eat your prime minister, and you never hear the end of it.
    – Peter
    Jan 13 at 12:36
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    Hangry?
    – terdon
    Jan 13 at 13:11
  • The bigger question is, did each member of the mob simultaneously say "Lekker!" and wave a hand next to one of their ears at the same time? Jan 14 at 12:54
  • 1
    that's why you only need to do it once for future PMs to take notice @Peter
    – jwenting
    Jan 16 at 4:34

1 Answer 1

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Yes, we (possibly) ate him, but not because of hunger

It happend in 1672, known in Dutch history as the 'rampjaar' or Year of Disaster. The Dutch republic was attacked by an alliance of France, England and (the Bishop of) Munster at the same time. The Republic was on the brink of defeat.

The prime minister, known then as Raadspensionaris, was Johan de Witt. His brother Cornelis was minister of defense. The Republic had (past tense) another person of power, the Prince of Orange, his official position was hereditary stadtholder. At that time the prince was a young man, and the office of stadtholder was abolished.

He would later become William III, king of England, but at that moment he was 22 years and barely adult. He didn't hold any official power, apart from his royal title, not Stadtholder. The Republic was going through the First Stadtholderless Period. The prince was looking for a way to gain power. And he found it...

In Dutch politics of the time there were two parties: The Orange party and the Staten (States) party. Usually the business elite and coastal provinces were Staten, the population and the army Orange. The Staten party was usually moderate and more liberal, the Orange party was more strict and Calvinist.

The Staten party was firmly against war and in favor of appeasement. War is bad for business, after all. Johan de Witt blundered by not preparing for war. His intelligence was faulty, and he thought he could solve any issue diplomatically.

The combined attack of France, England and Munster came as a rude surprise. French and Munster troops occupied large parts of the country. The people panicked. They (with some encouragement of supporters of the Prince) wanted a strong man to solve this crisis, and most of all: anyone else in charge than Johan the Witt and his brother.

Under immense political pressure Johan de Witt stepped down, and his brother also resigned. However, this was not enough. His policy of appeasement looked very much like treason. He was widely seen as a spy of France, or bought by the French king.

His brother Cornelis was arrested for treason, locked up in The Gevangenpoort, and interrogated under torture. While he was recuperating (in that prison) his brother Johan visited him. The charges were debatable, even then, and questioning under torture was definitely unusual.

Then, mysteriously, a mistake was made. The prison was under guard by the militia (schutterij), mainly to protect the brothers the Witt from being lynched. At a certain moment the old guard withdrew, while the new guard detachement wasn't there yet. How could this happen? Someone must have made a dreadful mistake scheduling! That meant the prison was unguarded, with only the Witt brothers present.

The mob (lower class citizens of The Hague) didn't wait, stormed the prison, captured the brothers, and tore them to pieces. Literally. Some parts were eaten indeed. Not over a barbecue with some sauce, but bites out of body parts. Raw, in other words, during the frenzy.

There certainly was no feasting. Though the people were hungry indeed, there was no widespread starvation or cannibalism. The documents in the comments from @Njuffa indicate there was no cannibalism. If someone did eat parts of the bodies, it was to spite the victims; to insult and humiliate them.

Afterwards, the prince very much regretted the whole affair. He shed some crocodile tears, and was very very sorry. After he gained full control of the government, that is. Nobody was convicted. The whole affair was hushed up.

From @Njuffa:

  • Historisch Verhaal en Politique Bedenckingen Aengaende de Bestieringe van Staet- en Oorloghsaken, voor-gevallen onder de Bedieningen van de Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt. Amsterdam: J.H.B. 1677, pp. 618-628
  • Gedenkwaerdige Stukken, wegens den moordt der Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt

Funny side note: This is all common stuff most Dutch know about. Perhaps not in this much detail, but it's common knowledge. A few months ago a blog published a cartoon with the face of Mark Rutte, at that time the prime minister, next to a portrait of Johan de Witt. With the caption: Mark, remember. We ate the the last prime minister we didn't like!

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    From a first perusal, the account given in Historisch Verhaal en Politique Bedenckingen Aengaende de Bestieringe van Staet- en Oorloghsaken, voor-gevallen onder de Bedieningen van de Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt. Amsterdam: J.H.B. 1677, pp. 618-628 does not mention body parts being eaten. The brothers were shot and run through with a sword, the bodies stripped naked and hung up-side down at the execution place, and some fingers cut off the Pensionaris.
    – njuffa
    Jan 13 at 4:58
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    Some eyewitness (?) accounts were collected in: Gedenkwaerdige Stukken, wegens den moordt der Heeren Cornelis en Johan de Witt, an anonymous publication that is tentatively dated to 1676 in the literature. On p. 14 one can read that various body parts were cut off the corpses: "En wierden verder de lighamen van alle hare ledematen ontbloot, een ieder een genoeghsam bekent, den een afsnijdende de vingers, duymen, teenen, neus, handen, ooren, enz."
    – njuffa
    Jan 13 at 5:38
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    On p. 22 of Gedankwaerdige Stuken it is mentioned that someone cut a strip of flesh from the corpse of Cornelis, and announced he was going to fry and eat it, but it is not known whether he followed through: "Eenen onbeschaemder als de andere, meynde de Ruaerds mannelyckheyt af te beten me sijne tanden, dogh het selve te tay sijnde, sneed het af. Een ader nam sigh oogh uyt de hooft, slockende het selfe in, vragende luyts keels, of hy he wel soo weder soude kunnen ouytkacken. Een ander ... sneet den Ruaerd een stuck vlees uyt het lyff omtrend sijn heupen ... te gaen braaden ende te eeten:"
    – njuffa
    Jan 13 at 5:55
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    If you are fluent in Dutch (your user name suggests you might be) you might want to review the two historical publications that I linked in my comments above. I can read Dutch but only with elementary school level proficiency. In addition to that I am struggling with the old-fashioned spelling and some outdated vocabulary.
    – njuffa
    Jan 13 at 6:04
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    please, pretty please, a link to the cartoon with Rutte
    – fraxinus
    Jan 13 at 23:47

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